The title may be a little presumptuous, especially for those who know that the Chinese had already designated 94 as the Year of the Dog, but then I wasn't to know that, until I read it somewhere the other day. Yuan Tan starts for the Chinese on February 10 marking the beginning of the first lunar month in their traditional calendar.
I must confess that for many, in fact, far too many years now I have been incomplete. As a falconer I mean, for these are not the pages in which one would confess the lack or loss of such things as to render one otherwise incomplete. Mind you thinking of some of the barbed wire fences I have negotiated at high speed in my falconry career, it lends some credence to the notion that someone, somewhere is looking after me. No, what I am referring to is that finally tuned team between man, hawk and dog, three individual beings all working together towards the same goal or in my ‘case just two thirds of the whole, man and hawk.
For far too many years now even the thought of a dog in the team was out of the question, in fact even the sight of a dog on the horizon quickened my heart rate. Flying imprinted eagles, that are not on first name terms with man's best friend, does not encourage you to suddenly decided to introduce one into the team.
Now life has a habit of changing course, just when you think things are going along in one particular direction someone turns the signpost, or pokes a stick in your wheel.
In my case, my then fourteen year old female eagle built a nest and laid three eggs. The upshot of that was in later years I was to give her a six day old Red Tail Hawk to foster rear. Instinct and a hell of a lot of preparation paid off, she handed back to me, a fine two and half pound tiercel with a brain that was convinced he was an eagle.
The Red Tail chick had been obtained purely for educational purposes for the eagle, but t ¥here he stood on my glove a very handsome specimen, and I was tempted to try my hand. The lure of once again hawking the small fields, our wood and river banks were all too much. After all, I told myself, now I was cutting short the eagles hunting season to give them more time on this breeding lark, I would need something to keep me out of mischief.
Well that was the reasoning, and looking back things seem to have worked out, although it soon became clear that I was lacking that essential partner, a dog.
Again, thoughts rattled around in my head, the reason I have never worked a dog with the eagles is because I never had a trained dog before I obtained an eagle. Then when I started training an eagle there was never enough time to train a dog. It was the old chicken and egg theory, which one to get first.
Now if I trained a dog to work with the hawk and an eagle came along in the future, I would have my trained dog and could concentrate on the eagle with the dog at my side.
With that lot sorted out in my head the decision next to ponder on, was what breed of dog.
On this subject we are all influenced by past experiences, be they our own or ones we have witnessed or just heard or read about. What seems to be the most basic need for a falconer is a dog which indicates where the quarry is. What happens after that is not so important. By that I mean, whether the dog flushes the quarry for the hawk or stands and watches the falconer flush the quarry, not chases it into the next county.
This last little gift is no doubt what has put a number of falconers off certain breeds. It is of course one notion that should not even be in the equation. For it is not the breed or the individual, but the trainer who is at fault.
Having said that, when one has witnessed a number of individuals of one particular breed misbehaving in the field, it does leave an impression. Sadly I seem to have seen more unruly falconers dogs than well behaved ones.
The heather bashers seem very content to use Pointers or English Setters to serve their falcons
The German Short Haired Pointer looks the hot favourite with most austringers but why ?. Certainly it is a very good all rounder, but then most falconers only want its pointing skills, and what about all the other HPR's ?, not forgetting the Spaniels.
The size of the dog was given some thought, as all these factors rattled around in my head. Transporting hunting eagles takes up quite a bit of room in a vehicle, the bird itself is large enough, but you have to have space for captured quarry. Roe, fox or hares don't easily fit under the drivers seat. It would be unwise to put a dog in with the eagle, and so it needs its own compartment. Somewhere comfortable to lie and dry off after a long day on the hill and enjoy the journey home.
The Brittany started to look a hot favourite, after all I was leaning towards a HPR as I had a yearning to use all its skills. A dog which would also retrieve would be handy when I was rifling rabbits on summer evenings, and the odd one wriggled into thick cover. I might even take up a duck and goose shooting on our farms with a bit more conviction with a good dog at my side.
The only draw back with the Brittany I thought was back to size, small enough to tuck into a little cubby hole, but with little legs how would it fair on the rough hill.
Now before all you fans of the Brittany, dive down my throat and inform me in no uncertain terms, that your dog can go for eighty hours a day in the roughest of cover.
Yomping over our hill in ten year old heather at an angle of sixty degrees is tough going for my strides, let alone a Brittanies.
In the end after all the two-ing and fro-ing, and weighing of the pros and cons it all boils down to what takes your fancy.
I have always fancied a Large Münsterländer, the first I ever saw in the field was 'Arrow' owned by Falkenmeister Alfred Landschutzer, President of the Austrian Falconers Order, I was duly impressed but that was way back in the late sixties and although they are well respected on the Continent they have been slow to take off in the U.K.
Like the book says, I took my time, contacted the Münsterländer club in fact joined it. Sorted out those breeders who were working their dogs, visited them, looked at dogs going through their paces and saw litters of puppies. Went home to mull it all over.
Then just before Christmas 92 a telephone call from one of the breeders, to let me know that Dual Champion 'Raycris the Kqrac Dreamer' had had a litter of eleven puppies. Unfortunately she had had some difficulty and in the process had been spayed by the vet. This was the last litter from the 'Kqrac Dreamer' who was a super model of the doggy catwalk with the brains who became a field champion, her most exceptional skill was pointing.
A bitch puppy was reserved for me if I wanted it?. A little uming and arring and my mind was made up. I collected a power packed bundle Kennel Club named Raycris Sunny Jane on 23rd. December.
Together 'Siouxzee' (pet name) and I journeyed through 1993, looking back now and at about half way into the basic training. For like hawks you never stop the training process, I am pleased I took some time, one needs the right temperament to try and train a HPR. A firm fair hand, the bright little beggars are always looking for a loop hole and are quick to exploit your weaknesses. The year has been a lot of fun, at times the role of trainer and pupil have been about turned, and I have had to be quick off the mark to catch up and take the lead again.
All in all for me 93 was the Year of the Dog.